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Fighting the virus, “hunting the witches” – moralizing in public discourses during the coronavirus pandemic in Croatia

Krešimir Žažar (Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 16 June 2021

Issue publication date: 29 March 2022




The purpose of the paper is to discuss particular features of the public debate around the COVID-19 pandemic and its mitigation strategies in Croatian media from the beginning of 2020 to mid-September of the same year.


The discussion is theoretically grounded on Luhmann’s concept of moral communication combined with the key assumption of critical discourse analysis that language reflects a position of power of social actors. Based on these premises, the analysis of a sample of articles in a chosen online media was conducted to uncover the moral codes in the public debate concerning the corona outbreak and connect them with specific moral discourses of particular social actors.


The findings clearly indicate that the communication about the pandemic is considerably imbued with moralization and that moral coding is profoundly used to generate preferred types of behaviour of citizens and their compliance with the imposed epidemiologic measures. In conclusion, Luhmann’s claim of moralization as a contentious form of communication is confirmed as the examined public discussion fosters confrontations and generates disruptions rather than contributing to a productive dialogue among diverse social actors.


The novelty of the approach lies in the combination of Luhman’s conceiving of moral communication with critical discourse analysis that, taken together, entails a pertinent research tool for analysing relevant attributes of the ongoing vibrant debate on the coronavirus outbreak.



The author is grateful to the participants of the “Luhmann Conference 2020” in Dubrovnik (Croatia) for their precious feedback on the raw version of the paper and especially to the two anonymous reviewers for providing valuable comments and suggestions for improving the manuscript.


Žažar, K. (2022), "Fighting the virus, “hunting the witches” – moralizing in public discourses during the coronavirus pandemic in Croatia", Kybernetes, Vol. 51 No. 5, pp. 1833-1848.



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